La Belle Tryamour, a Metrical Romance: by Gerard Montgomery. [Sir Launfal.]

Knight's Quarterly Magazine 1 (June 1823) 144-79.

Rev. John Moultrie

John Moultrie's Arthuriad, later entitled "Sir Launfal," burlesques Byron's Don Juan, humorously mingling the literary, political, and amorous concerns of a recent Cambridge graduate with the business of his story. In a note to a later edition Moultrie revealed his source: "The Romance upon which this poem was founded is contained in the first volume of Ritson's selections" (1876) 1:211n.

The fourth and concluding canto was never written, leaving the poem in a somewhat mangled state, though in any event the story is little more than a pretext for satire. Moultrie later added a prefatory sonnet beginning: "In youth's wild fervour, ere my heart had yet | Submissive bow'd to the acknowledged sway | Of loftier duty, did I frame this lay, | Which haply 'twould be wisest to forget" Poems (1876) 1:121. The digressive manner of telling the story, modelled on Tristram Shandy, also mimics the mazy wanderings of the Faerie Queene, which Moultrie imitates in several scenes.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "In Knight's Quarterly Magazine (called after Charles Knight, now one of the editors of Shakspeare) Macaulay, Praed, Moultrie, and other authors, first appeared in print. Macaulay's splendid lyric on the Battle of Ivry (in the War of the League) was one of his earliest contributions. This admirable periodical completed only three volumes, which are rarely to be obtained, even at a high rate, in England. Nearly the same band of contributors attempted to revive it as 'The Album,' but that was more short-lived than even the Quarterly Magazine. Nearly all these writers were contemporaries at Cambridge, and possessed vivacity and versatility, as well as talent, to a very large extent" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 2:56n.

Charles Knight: "Very early amongst the contributions came La Belle Tryamour, which Mr. Moultrie described as 'the threatened Beppo,' which, if I thought it too long, or had better matter to supply its place, I was to pack off without ceremony. I did not avail myself of the permission. One contribution of no common order was at least secured" Passages of a Working Life (1864) 1:301.

The poem opens with King Arthur, who, suffering from a case of the "Blue Devils," is thought to be near death. Merlin arrives in his dragon-drawn chariot, and concludes that the king is in need of a wife. He displays magic mirror he had once bestowed on Britomart, in which Arthur beholds a stirring scene imitated from Spenser's Bower of Bliss. The sight of the dripping maidens jolts the king back to life, and he decides that Guenever is the love of his life.

In the third canto the poet drops a significant hint that his narrative is a roman a clef: "One of this poem's most peculiar features | Is, that I'm ready to attest on oath | The truth of every fact therein related, | Although not always accurately dated" — but since no key is supplied and the tale is left unfinished, its reference is not obvious.

The first canto is notable for quoting from John Keats's "Ode to a Grecian Ode" — a poem little known at this time. Moultrie also quotes from Coleridge's Christabel: "Her gentle limbs she did undress | And lay her down in loveliness."

King Arthur, in the tenth year of his reign,
Fell sick of the blue devils: — by his court
So many brace of dragons had been slain,
So many giants, with their crimes, cut short,
So many rapes avenged, and castles ta'en,
That there began to be a lack of sport.
The realm, in fact, from Cornwall to the border,
Was in a shocking state of peace and order.

For six whole weeks, the Knights of the Round Table,
From morn to night, had nothing else to do
Than, saunter from the palace to the stable,
Play with their falcons, or their ladies woo,
Polish their arms, and laugh (when they were able,)
At their own languid jests; no mortal knew,
Till dinner was announced, what he'd be at;
And King and courtiers all were growing fat.

The game laws were enforced in all their rigour,
And several peasants were convicted fully
Of breaking dragons' eggs, and pulling trigger
At giants with two heads, who chose to bully
Their frighten'd children; but with all the vigour
Of the police, the court went on but dully;
It seem'd the British fair were past affronting,—
And then a frost set in, which spoil'd the hunting.

As for the ladies, they, poor souls, declared
That "they certayne for wearynesse should dye;"
The formal knights so prosed, and bowed, and stared,
With their demure, old-fashion'd courtesy;
And poor Sir Tristram, who could ill be spared
With his gay jests, and harp, and poetry
In a late fray had got a broken head,
And was not able yet to leave his bed.

In short, Miss Edgeworth's demon, pale Ennui,
Had seiz'd on the whole court with dire aggression;
And made it stupid as a calm at sea,
Or wedlock, after half a year's possession,
Or poor Lord Byron's last new tragedy,
Or this same metre, stripp'd of its digression
Or any pitch that human dulness reaches—
Save that of Mr. Hume's financial speeches.

I said the King fell sick (he kept his bed,)
With the blue devils; — 'tis a sore disease,
Worse than all fevers, yellow, green, or red,
The jaundice, or "that worm i' th' bud" one sees
On the pale, cheeks of hopeless lovers fed;
And if you wish to know the remedies
With which it should be treated, go and look
In Doctor Burton's valuable book.

'Tis a complaint that's chiefly incidental
To lovers, drunkards, scholars, kings, and bards;
To country squires with an encumber'd rental,
And gamesters apt to hold unlucky cards;
Bards beat it best; — to them it's instrumental
In spinning rhymes: there's Chauncey Townshend lards
His groaning stanzas (just to eke his strains out,)
With gloom enough to blow six Frenchmen's brains out.

The symptoms vary with the sex, condition,
Taste, temper, habits, constitution, age,
And fortune of the patient; — if a rich one,
It makes him fretful, — puts him in a rage
With wife, friends, children, servants, and physician;—
If poor, he's apt to quit the world's dull stage
With a sore throat; — it makes the lover sad,
The gamester gloomy, and the poet mad.

Old ladies call tt "fever on the nerves,"—
A name of universal application,
Which for all sorts of peevish humours serves,
And gains, for some cross people, toleration
Of such ill-bred behaviour as deserves
(To say the least,) a handsome flagellation;
A mode of treatment which I own that I,
In "nervous" cases, often long to try.

Of this I'll say no more; because I hear
A better poet is just now preparing
A work upon the subject, to appear
In Mr. Knight's best types and paper, bearing
The title of "Blue Devils," and I fear
'Twould seem absurd, in one so often wearing
Their livery as myself, to act physician
To others haply in no worse condition.

I wonder whether Mr. Wordsworth's yacht,
That fine sky-cruiser call'd the "Crescent Moon,"
Might, upon reasonable terms, be got
To bear my Muse and me, some afternoon,
"Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot,
Which men call earth;" for I'm quite out of tune—
Blue-devil'd by eternal common-places—
And business — and uninteresting faces.

There's nothing in the world (that is in Trinity)
To make us poets, happy; — I detest
Your Hebrew Greek, and heathenish Latinity,
And Mathematics are a bore at best;
And as I'm one who feel the full divinity
Of a fair face in woman, I protest
I'm sick of this unvaried regularity
Of whisker'd cheeks and chins of black barbarity.

'Tis a vile world — a world of dung and draymen,
And filthy streets, and noises beyond bearing;
Knife-grinders, fish-wives, ballad-singers, gay men
(Though last not least,) carousing, shouting, swearing,
With oaths enough to shock both priests and laymen,
Haunt me o' nights; and I can't take the air in
The morning, but I'm bored with butcher's shops,
And markets — and prize odes — and hay — and hops.

In me these things breed legions of blue devils;
These, and some thoughts which will not pass away,
Of powers decay'd, and time mis-spent in revels.
Of many a wasted hour and useless lay;
While the dark future, with its host of evils
Muster'd in grim and terrible array,
Looks none the sweeter for the thought that I
Have been the maker of my misery.

And that fond dream, which lured me on for ever
Through a long boyhood, saying I might earn
The poet's laurel with serene endeavour,
And write my name on an enduring urn,
Hath now departed; while ambition's fever,
Unquench'd, though aimless, hath not ceas'd to burn
With self-exciting fire, and thirst supplied
By longings which can ne'er be satisfied.

Here am I now, at twenty-three, inditing
Dull verses in a style which I despise,
And once abjured — just when I should be fighting
With nobler weapons for a brighter prize;
But that no longer have I hope or might in
My soul, to rush at famous destinies;
No occupation for my pen more meet
Than scribbling nonsense at so much per sheet.

"Time's past" — I should have nurs'd the seed, and cherish'd
The weak spring blossoms which shall bud no more,
And water'd their young roots, before they perish'd,
From the rich founts of old poetic lore;
And, in the beams of high devotion, nourish'd
Their growing ripeness, and laid up a store
Of thought, and kept my fancy in controul,
And made the Muse task-mistress of my soul.

I should have been more cautious in my diet,
Eaten less butcher's meat, and drunk no wine;
Abstain'd from evening punch, and midnight riot;
Lov'd but one maid, instead of eight or nine;
Kept all my pulses and my passions quiet;
And then my poems would have been divine.
Whereas I've been so wicked and unwise
As to waste all the better sympathies,

Affections, tastes, and impulses, which should,
Under the care of Study and of Nature,
Have fed my spirit with the proper food,
And made it reach the true poetic stature.
I should have then been strong, and wise and good,
In short, a very different sort of creature;
Yet my friends like me still (at least I think so,)
Which is the reason why I eat and drink so.

But thou, Ione, wilt thou not despise
Thy poet, for this vain and heartless song?—
Wilt thou not tell him, with upbraiding eyes,
That he hath done his better nature wrong,
Mingling with base and ribald phantasies
Some thoughts which to a deeper vein belong,
And idly mocking at the gifts which he,
With his first love, did consecrate to thee?

Oh! 'tis most true — too justly thou disdainest
The wretch who still (though hopeless) half aspires—
Alas! I know the heart, in which thou reignest,
Should he a temple for all high desires,
Pure thoughts, and noble darings; — not the vainest
And basest that e'er felt poetic fires;
And yet could'st thou but know how thou hast been
My dream, my star, my radiant Faery Queen—

How, ere that silent phantom, which I fear'd,
Had ceas'd to haunt me with its blighting eyes,
And, in my dim horizon, Hope appear'd,
My spirit turn'd to thee, and hung with sighs
On thy sweet image, in the region sphered
Of its lost dreams and sainted memories;
And how each meaner wish I did remove,
That I might love thee with a perfect love;—

How, when fears rose, which I could not repress,
That the mad revel, and the frantic brawl,
And the pale harlot's passionless caress,
Might soon my crush'd and grovelling soul enthral
Through long, long years of toil and hopelessness,
Till pleasure on my weary sense should pall,
And crimes be to me more familiar things
Than e'er were Fancy's dreams, or Faith's imaginings—

I said, "This must not be; I still can cherish
The inspiration of thy wild, wild eyes;
Though hopes, once strong within me, wane and perish,
Though years have chill'd my earlier sympathies,
Though soaring thoughts no more my soul can nourish,
Nor the old visions at my beck, arise,
Thy shrine is still unshaken — thou must be
My harden'd nature's last idolatry."—

Could'st thou know this — But why do I awaken
Vain thoughts and idle yearnings? — am not I
By the sweet sunshine of thine eyes forsaken?
Am I not far from every social tie?
Hath not each hope of my fond soul been shaken,
Save one, which wanders through eternity?
And shall I still avert a lingering glance
From the lone path in which I must advance?

Must I not waste the best years of my youth
In a cold, barren apathy, uncheer'd
By the kind looks of love and constant truth,
And beauty, by her radiant I smiles endear'd,
And children's voices? — and shall I, forsooth,
Still madly hope my verse may be revered
In my land's language? — that I yet may shrine
Thy name, Ione, in a living line?

"Wisdom doth live with children round her knees,"
Says Wordsworth; and he says what's very true;
But then, to nurse the children, if you please,
I'd rather have the children's mother too;
Indeed, without such trifling aids as these,
I'm very sure my Muse could never do;
She's grown cross lately, and refused to sing,
Because she wants to wed — or some such thing.

Spirit which art within me — or art not,
(I rather think the latter, and you know
In the year twenty, when my blood was hot,
I took the liberty to tell you so,—
At least to hint some notions which I'd got
Just then, that all your flash, and smoke, and glow,
Was quite — or very nearly — all my eye,—
A sort of barren fancy's tympany;

The passage I allude to you may find
Not far from the beginning of Godiva,)
I now request you, with a sober mind,
To tell me your intentions, and not drive a
Poor devil like myself, who's nearly blind,
On a blind errand; tell me whether I've a
Chance of succeeding in your trade, and whether
You'll aid me soon, or cut me altogether.

In fact, Miss Muse, there's been enough coquetting,
During the last six years, 'twixt you and me;
And boyish follies scarce are worth regretting;
But now I've fairly taken my degree,
And shut my Euclid up, and should be getting
Grave, for you know I'm turn'd of twenty-three:
A point at which you'll own its nearly time
To think of Reason more, and less of Rhyme.

Therefore I tell you fairly, once for all,
That if your visits are to be renew'd,
I'll thank you to be serious when you call,
Not (in a manner which to me seems rude)
Lifting me up that you may let me fall,
Then, scampering off in your capricious mood;
But with a sober mien and decent carriage,
As if your aim was not intrigue, but marriage.

If you'll be thus demure in your proceeding,
I shall be glad to see you every day,
And quite delighted when I find you're breeding—
If not, I must request you'll keep away,
And not think fit to interrupt my reading,
Since now I really have no time for play
Nor conversation with a wanton dame,
Who brings me neither, peace, nor gold, nor fame.

I must digress no further; if I do,
I shall forget my subject — let me see,
Where was I? oh! just where the devils blue
Had seiz'd on his Britannic Majesty;
Five days he languish'd, till his illness grew
Into a deep and dull melancholy,
(I accent that last word in the old way),
And the physicians scarce knew what to say.

The privy council in great haste assembled
On the sixth day, and held a long debate;
The courtiers all look'd blue, the doctors trembled,
And bulletins were posted at the gate,
Telling the world it could not be dissembled
That the King's health was in a dangerous state:
Though not a soul, of all that saw or heard of 'em,
In that unlearned age, could read a word of 'em.

Anon throughout the kingdom flew a rumour
That 'twas quite sure his Majesty would die
Of this inveterate melancholic humour;
'Twas said he loath'd his victuals, and put by
E'en the rum-punch, and nothing could he chew more
Substantial than a bowl of furmety,
(Which I can't say I like) — a dreadful tissue
Of mortal signs — and then he had no issue;

Having been much too busy, all his life,
To think of marriage; so all sort's of fears,
In every loyal breast, of course were rife,
And mobs were all together by the ears,
Ready to settle, with club, fist, or knife,
Who was to tax them; and ambitious Peers
Were promising, intriguing, and controlling,
Imploring, threatening, bribing, and cajoling.

The ladies had begun to buy their mourning;
Black silks had reach'd a most unheard of price,
And all the master tailors had had warning
To raise their workmen's wages in a trice:
When lo, at eight o'clock the seventh morning,
The air was darken'd, and it thunder'd thrice,
And, as the last peal sunk, was heard the whirling
Of the dread wheels which bore the wizard Merlin.

And slowly o'er the streets of sad Carlisle
Pass'd his enchanted car, whose every dragon
Glared on the gazers with a ghastly smile,
As if he'd gorge them raw with every rag on;
Until at last, above the regal pile
Where lay the moping offspring of Pendragon,
It stopp'd — so, while the groom unyokes the leaders,
I'll introduce their master to my readers.

I saw him once myself, upon the stage,
And therefore my account may be relied on;
He was, at that time, of a monstrous age,
Black-robed, white-hair'd, and round his waist was tied on
A zone inscribed with spells obscure and sage:
Green was the dragon which he used to ride on;
And when across the stage, his flight he took,
The pit look'd awe-struck and the galleries shook.

I think his age must, in King Arthur's time,
Have been about a hundred, more or less;
(It's not exactly fix'd in the old rhyme,
And therefore what I say is merely guess)
Which is, in fact, a necromancer's prime,—
Those scoundrels lived on to as great excess
As fellows of King's College, who (as I
Know to my sorrow) very rarely die.

"And sooth men say that he was not the sonne
Of mortal syre or other living wight,
But wondrously begotten and begonne"
(The words are Spenser's) "by a guileful spright"
On the fair body of a "lady nonne,"
Who happen'd to get drunk one summer night,
And ere she slept, forgot to shut her casement,
Through which the devil crept, to her amazement.

I wish I'd time to give the whole relation,
Just as I find it in the old romance,
Which is replete with useful information,
From ancient lore of England and of France;
But I must hasten on with my narration,
Leaving the reader, as he will, to glance
O'er the said tale, or waste his time and wits on
That prince of puppies, Mr. Joseph Ritson.

'Tis a fine subject, and if e'er hereafter
I chance to find the talent and the time,
Perhaps I'll make the public die with laughter,
By telling the whole tale in octave rhyme;
In which I can be gay, or grave, or "daft," or
Pathetic, or sarcastic, or sublime,
Just as the maggot bites; — the reader can see
My fancy guides me, and not I my fancy.

In that great poem shall be fully shown
All Merlin's true adventures, duly dated,
And mix'd with curious matter of my own,—
His life and his opinions, well narrated,
And how he was, at last, by love o'erthrown,
By a false, cunning beauty captivated,
The Lady of the Lake, who bound him, sleeping,
In a sea-cave, where still he's in her keeping;

But will return (as many people think)
Some day or other to his works in Wales,
Where you still hear his magic hammers clink
Under a rock that overhangs the vales
Of the "swift Barry;" — there his demons swink,
And strain, and pant, and lash their forked tails,
Cursing the spells which bind them to their pain,
Until their master shall come home again.

I'll give his picture, handsomely engraven
By Heath, on hot-press'd paper, from a bust
In my possession, with the beard unshaven;
A copy of his hand-writing, I trust,
May be procured on this side Milford-haven;
And the work shall be (as it ought and must)
Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown,
They being the first Booksellers in town.

But, for the present, 'tis enough to say
His mother was a nun, his sire the devil,
His grandfather a king of powerful sway,
Himself a conjuror, who could unravel
The fates, and make the elements obey
His charms, and raise all spirits, good and evil;
Was versed in the whole science of astrology,
And (as some think) inventor of phrenology.

In metaphysics, and in alchymy,
He knew as much as ever mortal knew;
And, for a judge of poetry, might vie
With any in the Quarterly Review;
Was master of the art of pharmacy
In all its branches, and could mend a shoe,
Or breathe a vein, or give a horse a ball,
With any modern farrier of them all.

In tactics and political economy
King Arthur's days had never seen his peer;
He was the court professor of gastronomy,
And held a patent for the sale of beer.
At Court they used to quiz his physiognomy,
Which he thought handsome, but all else thought queer;
So that he seldom at Carlisle appear'd,
For fear the ladies should insult his beard.

His favourite art was magic, in which none,
Who came before, or after him, have taken
So much delight, or half such mischief done—
Not Doctor Faustus — no, nor Friar Bacon;
'Tis said he could eclipse the moon and sun,
Put out the stars, make comets, and awaken
Or lull to sleep the ocean, as he chose,
And play a hundred more such pranks as those.

He knew the past, the future, and the present,
And could tell fortunes better than a gipsey;
So that his company, at times, was pleasant,
(Especially when you could make him tipsey)
He smelt when fleets, from Tunis or from Fez sent,
Would anchor in the Thames — this Merlin ipse;
(Excuse these expletives, for I've no time
At present to improve the sense nor rhyme.)

His optical illusions were surprising,
With these he charm'd his friends and scared his foes;
Sometimes (so potent was his art's disguising)
From clouds and vapours, at his touch, arose
A seeming host, before men's wondering eyes, in
Bright arms, with banners and embroidered clothes;
Just as I've seen Grimaldi's art sublime
Raise troops from tea-pots, in a pantomime.

What progress he had made in mathematics
Is what at present I shall not dispute on,
Because I've scarcely learnt to solve quadratics,
And am not over-perfect in my Newton;
Though I once read as far as hydrostatics,
Hoping some higher ground to set my foot on,
And twine my laurel round the wooden spoon,
But 'twas an honour I despair'd of soon.

[N.B. I wish it to be understood
That I mean no occult insinuation
Against the adjudgment (be it bad or good)
Of the said spoon, the last examination.
The moderators gave it where they should,
I'm told — so I submit with resignation;
And am most proud (though beaten) to agree
That Granta "hath one worthier spoon than me."]

Nor have I ascertain'd (I own with grief)
Great Merlin's metaphysical whys and whences—
It seems that he'd a proper disbelief
In those notorious liars call'd the senses,
And (I incline to fancy) found relief,
Like Berkeley, in exposing the pretences
Of the material world-whose notions I
(As suiting my convenience) mean to try.

Oh! 'tis most soothing, when all objects seem
Wrapt in a sevenfold cloud of fear and sorrow,
To know they're nothing but a hideous dream,
From which, no doubt, we shall awake to-morrow
To sober certainty of bliss supreme—
Hence consolation for all ills I borrow,
By disbelieving, with my whole ability,
All things that wear a shade of probability.

I don't believe ill matter — nor in spirit;
I don't believe that I exist, not I,—
Nor you, Sir, neither — if you chuse to swear it,
I tell you, very fairly, that you lie;
If you think fit to thrash me, I can bear it,
Knowing the thumps, in fact, are all my eye;
And that all sorts of fractures, hurts, and bruises,
Are as unreal as the patient chuses.

I know I'm lord of all that I survey,
Maker, and sole proprietor; I made
The sun that cheers me with his winter ray,
The woods that cool me with their summer shade;
I made the dinner I shall eat to-day;
I made the meadows where my childhood play'd;
I made myself, and (tired of single life)
I've half a mind to make myself a wife.

You see I've got a fine imagination,
And am (or should be, reader,) fancy-free;
Oh! for some bright and delicate creation,
Fresh from the mint of glowing phantasy,
To soothe my soul in this new desolation
Of hopes, which promised — what can never be.
Away with sad realities — I'll make
A being from whose love I'll ne'er awake.

And round her vision'd form, at my command,
All sweet affections, and gay hopes shall throng,—
Desire, and love, and joy, a radiant band,
Made trebly radiant in the light of song.
Lo! at her feet two beauteous children stand,
Whose looks are perfect Gerard — and I long,
In my fond arms, with passionate love, to strain her—
And — wish the vision was a little plainer.

And oft I listen, through the livelong night,
To the low, wave-like music of her breath,
And kiss her eyelids with a wild delight,
And haply bear her, as she slumbereth,
Talk to me in her dreams, — but if I write
Much longer in this style, 'twill be my death;
So we'll return to Britain, and find out
What Doctor Merlin's visit was about.

Of course he was admitted sans delay,
Though the whole Palace was in sad confusion;
Through crowds of gaping courtiers he made way
To where the King, with dressing-gown and shoes on,
Was gravely wasting, in great pomp, away;—
He bow'd, and said he "hoped 'twas no intrusion,
Though for so many months he had been absent—
But a late vision, by his sister Mab sent,

"Had told him that his Majesty was ill;
So he had come directly from Caer-Mardin,
To offer the assistance of his skill,
For (though he said it) there was nought so hard in
The power of blister, bolus, draught, or pill,
But he could cure it — and not charge a farthing.
He begg'd the Monarch would put out his tongue—
How long had this disorder on him hung?

"What was his diet? — did he sleep at night?
His pulse seem'd languid — how did he digest?—
Had he retain'd his usual appetite
Pray did he feel a tightness at his chest?
He thought 'twas want of exercise — he'd write
A short prescription, which to him seem'd best"—
This fragment of it's extant — the style's eligible,
And (like all Doctor's Latin) quite intelligible.

Rei Arthurus, Diabolis Coeruleis
Aeger, ob desiderium Gigantum
Decollatorum in Calendius Juliis,
Sal. matrimon. quotidie capiat quantum
Suff. et conjugialibus aculeis
[Versus desideratur — unus tantum]
Haustu matut. merid. et bespertino,
Rit. publ. pil. — Fiat — auct. M. D. Merlino.

The meaning of the document is plain—
The King was dying of a quiet life,
And therefore Merlin wisely did ordain
That he should take unto himself a wife;
After which treatment, should he e'er again
Complain of any lack of noise or strife,
Merlin acknowledged a disease so tragic
Would baffle both his medicine and his magic.

I'm sadly weary of this canto — well!—
I must make haste and end it — Arthur started
At this advice, as though some sudden spell
Had seized him, and, though far from chicken-hearted,
His courage for a moment fairly fell—
'Twas the first time it ever had departed,
Though he had seen strange sights — this sudden terror
The wizard noticed, and produced a mirror.

"My liege," said he, "this wondrous glass, created
By cunning spirits of my Father's breed,
(Which for such works is justly celebrated)
Possesses such strange Virtue, that you read
In it all future matters, which are fated
To be — or not to be; so in this need
I've brought it, that your Majesty may view
Some things of moment, which 'tis time you knew.

"'Tis the same glass which Lady Britomartis
Consulted, with success, some years ago,
And, I may say, has satisfied all parties—
May I request your Majesty to throw
One glance upon it? you shall see my art is
Able some strange foreknowledge to bestow—"
The King complied, and sullenly and slowly
His head uprais'd from that deep melancholy:

But scarce upon the mirror had his eyes
Rested, when through their orbs quick lightning shot,
And, with a sudden flush, the blood did rise
Into his sunken cheeks, and made them hot,
"Paining him through" with rapturous surprize;
All the blue devils were at once forgot;
And you might hear his pulses, as he gazed
On the bright phantoms in the mirror raised.

"The appearance instantaneously display'd"
(I borrow that last line from the Excursion,
And have not much improved it; I'm afraid,
By tipping it with rhyme, to fit my version)
Was of a beauteous and majestic maid,
In a fair garden taking her diversion,
Like Emily in Chaucer, when her far sight
Captured the captive Palamon and Arcite.

I wish I could describe, like that same Chaucer,
Or sweeter Spenser in his Bower of Bliss;
And then I'd tell you all King Arthur saw, Sir,
Of the bright beauties of that dainty Miss;
But mine's a muse of sackcloth and of horse-hair,
By no means equal to a scene like this;
And I should be extremely loth to spoil it—
I fail'd completely in Godiva's toilette.

"'Twas summer, and the sun had mounted high,"
(Wordsworth again. — I wish all Bards, who borrow,
Would pay their debts as honestly as I,
And shame the devil — but I own, with sorrow,
That some of us can't steal, nor beg, nor buy,
To-day, without abusing you to-morrow;
A fashion learnt from foot-pads in "the South,"
Who always cut your throat, to stop your mouth.

For proof of this, consult Don Juan, passim,—
That noble poem of a noble peer,
Who wants a stronger arm than mine to thrash him,
And therefore I forbear to name him here;
Although, as I undoubtedly surpass him
In his own metre, I've no cause to fear;
But, in the words of Mother Hubbard's dog,
"The hog ne'er hurt me, — I'll not hurt the hog.")

'Twas summer, and the Sun had mounted high;
The Earth beneath his fiery kiss was panting,
With close, quick throbs of murmurous ecstacy,
(The last two lines, which seem to me enchanting,
Are copied, in great part, I can't deny,
From Coleridge, whom I scorn to be supplanting
In the world's favour) while on Arthur's soul
Sweet sounds of whispering winds and musical waters stole.

And straight, within that mirror's charmed space,
Rose a fair garden to his wondering eye;
A still, secluded, and delicious place,
With terraced walks, and trees upshooting high,
And crystal streams, that ran a pleasant race,
And fairy grottos, fashion'd curiously
With shells and glittering spars, and odorous bowers
Bright with all mingled hues of faintly-breathing flowers.

And near a spacious, fountain, which was flinging
An everlasting dew into the shade
Of sun-proof branches o'er its margin clinging,
So that no flower in that sweet spot might fade,
But a fresh perfume was for ever springing,
There lay upon a bank a radiant maid;
Who, as it seem'd, had thither stray'd to shun
The noon-day fervour of the summer sun.

Her figure was right-royal, and her mien
(As on that flowery bank reposed she lay)
Such as might well become a scepter'd queen;
Around her was a band of virgins gay,
Fairer than any uncharm'd eyes have seen:
But their sweet mistress was more fair than they;
Perfect she seem'd in every limb and feature—
In short she was a very noble creature.

The loosen'd tresses of her golden hair
Down her white neck and heaving bosom stray'd,
Which, for the summer heat, she had laid bare
To catch the breeze that o'er it's billows play'd,
And fondly murmuring seemed to nestle there;
(That thought's a little hackney'd, I'm afraid,
But I'm reserving all the strength I can to
Dress out a fairy, for my second canto.)

And at her head there sat a little page,
A beauteous, rosy, wanton, smiling boy,
Of aspect older than his tender age,
Who, lest the summer insects should annoy
His lady's bright cheeks, or with amorous rage
The virgin honey of her lips enjoy,
Brandish'd some plumes, with which he seem'd as handy
As the "poor negro girl" in Tristram Shandy.

The dame, meanwhile, with delicate skill was braiding
Bright flowers in baskets at her elbow set,
With female tact their rainbow colours shading
Into a fresh and fragrant coronet—
In which all lovely forms and splendours fading,
In meet array and natural order, met;
While, gently peeping those bright links between,
Smiled varied leaves of light and sober green.

There shone the lily, pure as woman's mind,
And fragrant violet, bashful as her eye;
And with grave ivy was the rose combined,
Like woman's grace, with wisdom blushingly;
And the proud hyacinth was there entwined
With gilly-flowers and gentle rosemary;
And its dark leaves green myrtle interwove
With smiling heart's ease, type of woman's love.

And ever as her glancing fingers wove
That blushing garland, at the lady's feet
A bright-eyed maiden warbled songs of love,
Which, like an echo, did her lute repeat;
In such wild sort as if the music strove
With her sweet accents which should be most sweet;
But the far song was in a foreign tongue
Which on the monarch's ear its magic burthen flung.

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter;" in like manner, I suppose,
A foreign strain must always be preferr'd
To one whose language every hearer knows.
It seem'd, however, that the sweet sounds stirr'd
That lady's fancy, for her bosom rose
With frequent throbs, and ever and anon
In her wild passionate eyes a burning lustre shone.

I own she was not of that mien which I
Am apt to fall in love with, though her frame
Was faultless, and her spirit fine, and high
But then what Shelley calls a "vestal flame"
Seem'd flashing through her glances restlessly,
And made her not unlike the Spanish dame,
Who offers marriage, with so much effrontery,
In that strange play "The Custom of the Country."

It seems King Arthur saw with other eyes,
For his breath falter'd and his sight grew dim;
Anon that glorious lady did arise,
And crown the songstress of that fervid hymn
With her fresh garland; then, in playful guise,
Distributed, according to her whim,
The yet unwoven flowers amidst the band
Of laughing maidens, with majestic hand.

Awhile she gazeth on that lovely stream
With pensive eyes, like one whose soul is lost
In the dim mazes of a summer dream,
Watching the bubbles on the surface toss'd,
Which wink and whiten in the sun's warm gleam;
Then suddenly, as if the thought just cross'd
Her wayward fancy, to her maids she beckon'd,
And bade them disarray her in a second.

For, by the Naiad of that crystal fountain,
And by the wild-flowers breathing on its brim,
And by the breeze that wander'd from the mountain,
And by her own sweet shape so fair and slim,
She was resolv'd some moments' space to count in
Those tempting waters, and to take a swim;
And, faith, she'd have her maids of honour try
A gentle plunge, to bear her company.

Wild laughter ran through all that girlish rout
At this new frolic of their wayward Queen;
Some round her throng; on tiptoe some look out,
Parting, with tremulous hands, the branches green,
Lest haply eyes profane should be about;
Though they well knew that never foot had been
Till then, save that of matron, child, or maid,
Near that lone fountain, and that silent shade.

Oh, Tasso, Tasso, lend me now the powers
Which erst Armida's arbours did entwine;
Oh, Spenser, Spenser, aid me with thy Bowers
Of Bliss, which our forefathers thought so fine;
Oh, Ariosto — but this age of ours,
I fear, would shudder at your songs divine,
Unless their choicest strains I should reform,
Which Almack's virtuous belles might vote too warm.

Hush! — verbum sapienti — what I've said
I've said — and silence now becomes me best—
Soon had those playful, damsels disarray'd
Their queen, with laughter loud and frolic jest,
And her fair person, charm by charm, display'd,
Till in her blaze of beauty, all confest,
She stood a moment in the kindling gleam,
Then plung'd, with blushful haste, into the amorous stream.

Above her head the crystal waters close
One instant — then like Venus she emerges,
When on the deep with dewy beams she glows,
Fresh from the moonlight kisses of the surges.
Gentle reproaches to the shore she throws,
And, with gay words, her trembling maidens urge,
Till the blue wave with beauties is besprent,
As with bright stars the frosty firmament.

Some dip their feet, and linger on the bank,
With cautious courage, inch by inch, advancing;
Some leap at once into the fountain, spank,
Through its clear depths, like water-rockets, glancing;
Some, half discover'd, wring their tresses dank;
Some on the brink, with girlish mirth, are dancing:
While ever, from the water to the skies,
A pleasant Babel of wild sounds doth rise.

"Oh, how delicious is this cooling stream!"—
I'll thank you, Miss Mac Twolter, not to splash."
"Biddy O'Blarney! — why how cold you seem!"
"Well! I declare I've got a water rash!"—
"Oh! I'm so frighten'd!" — "This is bliss supreme!"
"Good gracious! look at Miss Fitzpatrick's sash!
I vow its floating on the water!" — "Oh!
Help! help! — a shark has caught me by the toe!"

Enough of this — the scene's my own invention;
I introduced it, merely with a view
To show how groundless is the reprehension
Which my poor Muse has been subjected to
By some fastidious folks whom I could mention,
And at their head the Quarterly Review,
Which chose to say Godiva was scarce decent—
I wish such critics were beyond the sea sent.

One really would suppose, to hear their flummery,
My Muse was half a Pagan, or a Turk;—
That folks would want a "Family Montgomery,"
Expurgated, like Shakspeare, lest there lurk
Between the leaves some matter which might come away
From lips that read to ladies at their work.
Whereas I'm very sure I never wrote
A line which Mr. Simeon might not quote.

I own I hate that squeamish affectation
(Itself the worst indecency) which sees
In Nature's fairest works abomination,
Faints at bare necks, and thinks it right to sneeze
If painter's art, or bard's imagination,
Disrobe a Venus higher than the knees:
Out on the weak and filthy superstition
Which finds indecencies in prints from Titian!

For my own part, while no unholy flame
Mingles with that which animates my note,
I still shall worship (careless of such blame,)
Beauty without, or with a petticoat;
The loveliness of Nature still proclaim—
To her, in every shape, my song devote;
Nor care one farthing, what may be the charm—
A flower, a rainbow, or a ladys arm.

Ye prudes who want a proper mark to fire on,
Leave Titian, Spenser, and myself alone;
(I link my name to these, because Lord Byron,
In a late note, has very clearly shown
That Campbell ranks with Shakspeare;) spend your ire on
Congreve and Farquhar, Little, Colman, Hone;
Read Dryden's plays, and (if you can) get through
"Virtue in Danger" by Sir John Vanbrugh.

But, while such authors still retain their station
On bashful bookshelves, I beg leave to say
'Tis a confounded piece of affectation
To quarrel with a wild and sportive lay,
Which merely seeks for harmless recreation
Amongst all beauteous objects in its way;
And modestly looks on, while maids undress
A gentle lady in her loveliness.

Now to my story; for, in truth, this Canto
Is longer than most readers will think proper;
And Pegasus, though gall'd by the portmanteau
Of nonsense which he carries at his crupper,
Has frisk'd away, not caring where he ran to;
But 'tis high time we should pull up to supper,
And from a good night's rest fresh spirits borrow,
Because the road won't be so smooth to-morrow.

Arthur, throughout this scene, had kept his eye on
That lovely lady — I don't mean to say
The monarch was an absolute Sir Guyon,
Nor wish at all to vindicate the way
In which he gazed: in war he was a lion,
In peace a dove — and had been known to stray
With a fair damsel on a summer eve—
But that's a story which I don't believe.

Had he resembled, in his disposition,
Such high-soul'd lovers as myself and Plato,
I think so very able a physician
As Merlin, surely might have found a way to
Effect his cure, without an exhibition
Which certain persons won't know what to say to.
However, to conclude, the King was gasping,
While his whole body trembled like an aspen.

"The enchantment works," thought Merlin; "this will do;
I think the image on his soul is painted;"
And then the mirror suddenly withdrew,
At which the King changed colour, reel'd, and fainted.
Cold water on his face the courtiers threw
Till he revived, and swore that vision sainted
(Whoe'er she was) he would adore for life,
And she, and only she, should be his wife.

"Sire," quoth the wizard, "by that wondrous science
Which raised this splendid vision, I discover
The dame to be the daughter of King Ryence,
Hight Guenever, now pining for a lover;
So, if it please your Majesty, I'll fly hence
To Dublin, where he reigns, and carry over
My mirror, in the which I'll let her see
A handsome likeness of your Majesty.

"Your Majesty must give me, if you please,
Full power to carry on the whole affair,
In which I pledge myself to bring you ease,
And satisfy your wishes to a hair.
Before next Autumn, if you fall to seize
In your impassion'd arms the willing fair,
And the full tide of wedded raptures whirl in,
My art's all nonsense, and my name's not Merlin."

I hate all dry details, so I omit
The courtship, which was formally and duly
Managed by proxy, with all Merlin's wit;
He set about it skilfully and coolly;
So that the marriage deeds were fairly writ,
Sign'd, seal'd, and witness'd, by the first of July;
And then King Arthur, with great pomp and pride,
Set out for Dublin to bring home his bride.

I own I think, from all I've ever seen
Of lovers and of love (and that's no little,)
That if each bride were courted like a Queen,
(That is, by proxy,) 'twould do every tittle
As well, and save spectators much chagrin;
Unless the happy pair could eat their victual,
Talk and behave like other Christian folk,
Whose necks are yet ungall'd by Cupid's yoke.

I speak this feelingly; because sometimes,
While busy on my last immortal poem,
And thinking less of kisses than of rhymes,
Two lovers bored me much (for which I owe 'em
A grudge,) with cooings, which to me seem'd crimes,
And little less to all who chanc'd to know 'em.
However, as the match has turn'd out well,
I won't reproach them with a syllable.

I hymn'd their nuptials in majestic verse,
Although their very troublesome flirtation
Deserved far less my blessing than my curse;
But then, you know, I was a near relation;
And now the lady has begun to nurse;
So I've just time for brief congratulation,
(Which to omit might be esteem'd uncivll,)
Before I pack my poem to the devil.

I wish I could afford a serious stanza,
But haven't space to be pathetic now;
Sure such digressions never mortal man saw
As I've indulg'd in; I declare and vow
That I'm almost as bad as Sancho Panza
With his long proverbs; but I make my bow
To further prosing, and will really try
To wind up this long canto steadily.

It was a lovely morning of July,
When brave King Arthur, laughing and light-hearted,
With a well-dress'd and gallant company,
From his good palace in Carlisle departed;
Behind him rode all England's chivalry,
Drums beat, and trumpets bray'd, and horses started,
And flowers were flung from window and balcony,
And songs yell'd out in praise of matrimony.

Forth on the road to Holyhead they pass'd,
A goodly party — Lords, and Knights, and Squires,
Ladies, who killing looks around them cast,
And Minstrels thrumming on their tuneless wires,
All in their Sunday clothes, from first to last;
Vintners, and cooks with faces like their fires,
Monks, tailors, mountebanks, and such small deer,
Jumbled like Chaucer's pilgrims, closed the rear.

I won't relate the stories that were told—
The catches that were sung, all through North Wales;
Because the whole description, if not old
Would scarce surpass the Canterbury Tales.
To cut the matter short, they soon behold
The port of Holyhead, now white with sail.
And the King's fleet at anchor near the land,
With pennons flying, and the yards all mann'd.

The catalogue of ships — the embarkation—
The names of the commanders — and the frights
Sustain'd by ladies, with the consolation
Duly adininister'd by courteous knights—
The King's sea-sickness, and the sad cessation
It caused in his contemplative delights,
With other slight disasters which befel 'em,
I leave to better bards, who've wit to tell 'em.

Neither shall I digress about the moon, or
Ocean, or breeze, just now, for want of time;
Nor watch the progress of each brig and schooner,
Because you may consult the pantomime
Acted with just applause, about last June, or
Easter, or Christmas, which was quite sublime,
Tracing from shore to shore, and ship to ship,—
His present Majesty's Hibernian trip.

There are some points of contrast in the cases,—
Some of resemblance, — find them if you will;
Of which the principal that I can trace is
This — that King Arthur sail'd, in hopes to fill
With a young bride his heart and his embraces;
King George the Fourth, you know, was luckier still;
For his spouse left the world she'd long been troubling,
Just as he anchor'd in the bay of Dublin.

The morning rose in sunshine and in smiles,
As the King's galley sail'd into the bay,
And joyous look'd the verdant gem of isles,
To welcome, in due form, the, nuptial day;
The shore was throng'd with carriages for miles,
And crowds had come on foot a monstrous way,
To drink, in whiskey-punch, to the alliance
Of Arthur with the daughter of King Ryence.

The papers, which so loyally recorded
King George's landing on the Irish coast,
May serve for Arthur's, and are choicely worded,
Especially the Times and Morning Post.
And, as no room just now can be afforded,
I must refer my readers, all or most,
Back to those honest chronicles, which tell
In prose what verse could never paint so well.

What were the feelings of the royal turtles,
When each first saw what each had loved so long,
How they were crown'd with roses and with myrtles,
The Poet Laureate's hymeneal song,
The list of jewels, feathers, robes and kirtles,
The steeples which peal'd forth their glad ding-dong,
The feasts and frolics of the nuptial week,—
Are things of which I shan't presume to speak.

It is enough to state that they were wedded,
The cake devour'd in form, the stocking thrown,
And the fond pair, in the old fashion, bedded,
(Which I could never have endured, I own;)
Both seem'd, for weeks, light-hearted and light-headed;
But when the honey-moon was fairly flown,
They left King Ryence and the Emerald isle,
And travell'd home in triumph to Carlisle.

What happen'd there, and how the match turn'd out—
The tournaments — the gauntlets that were flung
For ladies' smiles, by gentle knights and stout,
With much that happen'd those great folks among,
If courteous readers like what I'm about,
"My future labours way not leave unsung,"
Though neither Guenever's, nor Arthur's glory,
Will form henceforth the subject of my story.

I've not, as yet, produced upon the stage
My hero, nor my heroine — but assure
The ladies that the first will quite engage
Their tender hearts, — a noble knight though poor;
And for the second, if she's not the rage,
(My gentle fairy, ma belle Tryamour)
I shall be very sorry for the men,
And won't encroach upon their time again.

Half my next canto, I make free confession,
(Was ever such a candid bard as I?)
Unless relieved by excellent digression,
May, very possibly, be rather dry;
But when I quit the court, and gain possession
Of fairy bowers and forest scenery,
(Subjects so dear to Shakspeare and to me)
The reader then shall see — what he shall see.

This canto's but the porch, as Wordsworth says,
(See the Excursion) to a larger building;
The body of the work I've yet to raise,
And garnish the inside with paint and gilding:
But when the whole's complete I'll win such praise
As never yet a poet's bosom thrill'd in;
Unless blue devils, or disasters worse,
Should intervene to interrupt my verse.

But these things are in embryo; — and now,
Before I send my packet to the press,
And to the reader make my parting bow,
I'd have a gentle name my page to bless.
Shall it be thine? oh! no, Ione, thou
Art yet a thought of too great holiness;
And of a different strain the verse must be,
Which I can bear to dedicate to thee.

If aught in happier vein, with worthy pride,
Hereafter I achieve of gentle song,
If fitting utterance be not still denied
To visions which have held my soul so long
That their deep sleep will not be cast aside,
Thou art the cause, and unto thee belong
The fruits of that late harvest — at thy feet,
Sweet friend, they then shall lie — an offering wild, but meet.

I now despise myself, that I have spoken
Thy name 'midst fancies of a lighter kind,
And with wild words my soul's long silence broken;
Nor should this be, Ione, could I find
The hope to greet thee with a bolder token—
But fare thee well, until I shall have twined,
(If that may be) with power that fails me now,
A wreath which shall not shame thy peerless brow.

Or to the Genii of far distant places,
The dreams which linger yet by Severn's side?—
Or to each spot which here remembrance traces,
The scenes of boyish pleasure, hope, and pride,
The sports still loved, the old familiar faces,
The air whose inspiration hath not died—
To all thine old enchantments, still so strong,
Sweet Eton, shall I dedicate my song?

Or shall my spirit, for a moment, hover,
With wistful gaze, o'er Granta's tranquil bowers,
As o'er some maiden's sleep her phantom lover;
And to the memory of departed hours,
And calm enjoyments, which, alas, are over,
Suspend a votive wreath of fading flowers;
Greeting the Unforgotten who remain
In shades which I shall never see again?

Dear thoughts are these, which will not goon decay—
But I'm beginning, I'm afraid, to whine;
So, lest this canto should not close to-day,
I'll not indite another serious line;
But to thy image thus inscribe my lay,
Unknown, but much respected Caroline,
From whom I've just receiv'd a flattering letter,
Which makes me inconceivably your debtor.

I know not, lady, if thy cheek be fair,
Nor what may be the colour of thine eyes;
I ask no questions about lips or hair,
But I am sure that thou art good and wise
And gentle, and hast kindly tears to spare,
In graver moods, to poet's phantasies;
And therefore, lady, shalt thou be enshrined
Amidst the holiest visions of my mind.

Haply I ne'er shall see thee: — be it so;
I have a gentle vision of my own,—
A maiden with meek eyes, and locks that flow
Down on her lustrous shoulders; all alone
She sits, with saintlike aspect — touch'd with woe;
Mute — listening to the low and dreamy tone
Of quiet musings and calm thoughts, enshrined
Deep in the inmost temple of her mind.

Ay! there it is, with radiant garments flowing,
Like summer clouds around the rising sun—
The soul-lit eye with heavenly rapture glowing,
The cheek just crimson'd o'er, and leaning on
The small and snowy hand — alas! I'm growing
Most eloquently crazy — but I've done;
I only mean to say the form's enshrined
Amidst the holiest visions of my mind.

Perhaps 'tis better, lady, we should ne'er
Meet, lest this picture should receive a taint;
Though, I believe that thou art far more fair
Than aught that my poor phantasy can paint;
But then you know, dear madam, if I were
Proud to be thought a poet (which I an't)
I should be fearful that those eyes so critical
Might think my person not the most poetical.

In the mean time I'll thank you to believe me
The beau ideal of a poet's figure;
Your kind imagination may conceive me
Like Milton on the whole, though something bigger:
Slender and graceful; — yet I own 'twould grieve me
Not to possess my share of youthful vigour—
Paint how you please — I leave it to your taste,
In which my fullest confidence is placed.

And here I pause awhile and wish good bye
To all my readers; hoping they've perused
These sorry stanzas with indulgent eye,
And won't disdain to own they've been amused;
In which case, by the first of next July,
I shall be glad to be again abused
By those prim critics — so but hearts more wise
Deign to approve my rambling phantasies.

[pp. 144-79]